Thaipusam – A showcase of communal spirit

Thaipusam has long been a visually captivating festival that’s astounded locals and tourists alike, the former more occupied with the inconvenience of road closures, while wide-eyed tourists line the streets, taking time to admire the dedication of the Kavadi bearers.

Thaipusam often sees a large number of Hindu devotees taking leave/time off to participate in this non-public holiday event.

Thaipusam often sees a large number of Hindu devotees taking leave/time off to participate in this non-public holiday event.

A kavadi bearer waiting patiently along the crowded streets at Thaipusam

A kavadi bearer waiting patiently along the crowded streets at Thaipusam

Thaipusam is held on the full moon of the 10th Tamil month in honour of the Hindu God, Lord Murugan. In preparation for the day, Hindu devotees adopt a strict vow of celibacy throughout the period of the 10th month, consuming only one vegetarian meal (per day) and abstaining from worldly desires like sex, drugs and alcohol. On the eve of Thaipusam, devotees embark on 24-hour long fast before donning the Kavadis that can weigh as much as 40 kilograms.

While the festival procession of Thaipusam has been covered extensively in numerous articles, one interesting idea behind Thaipusam I’ve come to admire is the support that family, friends and volunteers put into the celebration.

From the start, Kavadi bearers have their friends and family carefully pierce their bodies with skewers to support the semi-circular canopy of the Kavadi. As the devotees venture their way along the walk, the sounds of drums, percussion and song become vital motivators to combat the physical pain and exhaustion faced by the devotees.

The support of friends and family is essential for Kavadi bearers. Here, song and dance is used to motivate the bearer to test the limits of his devotion.

The support of friends and family is essential for Kavadi bearers. Here, song and dance is used to motivate the bearer to test the limits of his devotion.

Volunteers distributing free drinks to passers-by along Serangoon Road just outside Mustafa Centre

Volunteers distributing free drinks to passers-by along Serangoon Road just outside Mustafa Centre

Other devotees accompanying the bearers will sometime carry a milkpot on top of their heads along their journey to the temple.

Other devotees accompanying the bearers will sometimes carry a milkpot on top of their heads along their journey to the temple.

Interestingly, this year’s festival was the first time since 2011 where musical instruments and singing were permitted till the start of Clemenceau Avenue, a ruling that did not sit too well with many people when handed out by the Hindu Endowment Board at the start of 2011.

Aside from friends and families, a good number of volunteers spend much of their money to setup food and waterpoints along the 4.5km stretch from Sri Srinivase Perumal Temple (Farrer Park) to Sri Thandayuthapani Temple (Tank Road), distributing anything from lassi and biryani to anyone participating in the event, passers-by included.

Thaipusam is very much a visual spectacle admired by many.

Thaipusam is very much a visual spectacle admired by many.

A scene from inside the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple. At the back you can see a large statue of Lord Murugan being balanced by devotees on large wooden logs.

A scene from inside the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple. At the back you can see a large statue of Lord Murugan being balanced by devotees on large wooden logs.

Thaipusam is also a great time to catch up with fellow friends.

Thaipusam is also a great time to catch up with fellow friends.

Devotees and passers-by alike can partake in the food given out by volunteers and the temples alike, a great way to be part of the whole festival experience.

Devotees and passers-by alike can partake in the food given out by volunteers and the temples alike, a great way to be part of the whole festival experience.

Thaipusam is very much a festival to admire, for their dedication towards sacrifice and the strong communal spirit that is synonymous with it. It made me think twice about today’s contemporary Chinese culture and its overemphasis on wealth and prosperity without giving too much in return.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: